Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Currently in Paris with my parents and my brother. I love seeing them again, but I keep getting sad when I think about them leaving. :( Unfortunately my brother is really not able to put up with any kind of culture whatsoever, so he's being a pain. But he's cute, so we keep him around. And at least he gets in free to all of these museums that he's not enjoying.

Hope everyone is enjoying their vacation so far!

Sunday, December 16, 2007


I feel like I'm wasting my time here. One of my main reasons for coming here to France, for doing this program, was to have the opportunity to travel, and that just hasn't happened. I've been to Soissons, the town where I live, I spent a weekend in Amiens, a day in Laon, half a day in Chauny, a couple of hours in Saint Quentin, and I've been to Paris a lot. That's it. I'm happy I've been to those places, but I really want to travel. I already wasted Toussaint (although there were reasons for that). My family is coming for winter vacation (only a week left now!!!) and while I'm so excited to see them, I think we're just staying in Paris. I've been there already. Then my plan is to go to Lyon for New Year's, maybe to Dijon after that. I had thought about going to see my friend Joanna in Prague but plane tickets are expensive. I need to go places! Not other places in France, I want to go to other countries. And I'm running out of time. After this break I only have two more, and I have huge list of places I want to see. I guess I just have to prioritize now. Part of the problem is that I have so little free time during the week that by the time it's vacation and I want to go somewhere it's super expensive and I haven't made any plans. Bravo to me.

I've started breaking up my list of places to go into weekend vs need longer to be there. So here's my list of places needing more time, not in any order:

London (could be a couple of weekend trips)
Italy (Rome, Florence, Venice (although canals may be too dirty))
Greece (Athens, Peloponnesus sites, an island or two) (also possible to do in summer with parents and Dad's coworkers (half of them are Greek))
Vienna, Salzburg, and Budapest
Scandinavia (cruise in the summer?)
Spain (although this could be dumped because there are other places I would rather go)

Anyone interested?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

In Which Soleil Finds Her People, Successfully Doesn't Burn Her Room Down, and Fails at Teaching English

I have been super busy for the past few weeks. Why, you may ask? I found the Jews. Or perhaps I should say that they found me. I was connected with a lovely fa,ily, the Bs, by a friend of mine from home whose father does business with Mr B. My friend exchanged our coordonées (contact information) and they invited me for Shabbat two weekends ago. I had a really great time, they are just lovely people and have seven really nice and cute kids. They made me feel really welcome and like one of the family. They are also quite a bit more pratiquant (observant) than me, so that was interesting. Observant as in their rabbi is Lubuvitcher - you know, the guys with the beards, hats, and black coats, Mrs B wears a sheitl and only skirts, the boys have tzitzit on always, women can't lead services or read from the Torah, you get the picture. Then on Sunday afternoon, you will never believe what happened. Picture this: I'm playing in the living room with the youngest girls when a guy comes to the door. He talks with Mr B and Mrs B, and then he and Mr B come into the living area and I hear Mr B say in French "this is the American, she's 23, etc." Uh-oh. So they call me over and Mr B says "this is our friend from Israel. He knows people and can introduce you to some people." He's a matchmaker!!!!! I felt like I had walked onto the set of Fiddler on the Roof. What century do I live in again? Anyway, I sort of stuttered and flubbed my way through telling him where I live, what I'm doing in France, that kind of stuff, and then awkwardly left the room as fast as I could. So that was quite interesting. I know that the Bs meant only the best by this, and I'm flattered that they think well enough of me to find me a husband, but this is not so much my style of finding Mr Right. I doubt that the matchmaker will come up with anyone anyway - I'm 23 and past my expiration date.

Anyway, so last weekend I was back in the same community but with a different family (see how welcoming this community is? very nice) but I also went to a Hanukkah party sponsored by the congregation Kehilat Gesher, which is a Francopohone-Anglophone synogogue in Paris and more in the wing of Judaism that I'm used to. I had a great time, met lots of people, including another assistant (or former assistant) who was really nice, and stuffed myself. Good times.

Yesterday I completely raté-d my lesson with one of my CM2 classes. We're learning I like/I don't like and also the forms with you and s/he. So I picked a song, Let's Call the Whole Thing Off, and made up a worksheet to practice s/he likes, because they always forget the s at the end. The kids were clueless. I understand that they didn't know how to find the answers in the song (they had to find out who was singing and then figure out you/I into s/he), okay, fine, I didn't realize that that part was so complicated for them. But I am completely horrified that they didn't understand the questions in English, and that they didn't want to answer in English. These kids have no idea what "who" means. Oh my gosh, who has been teaching them for the pzst two or three years????? They should have learned that in their first year of English! I don't know how I'm going to get them ready to take the regional English exam at the end of the year if I have to spend this much time reviewing things that they should know by now, plus the fact that it takes them so long to learn anything. I think the problem must be me. Maybe I just don't teach in a way that will make them remember, or maybe I'm not forcing them to use English enough. I know I speak too much French in class, and I'm really trying to change that, but what can I do when they give me blank looks when I tell them to raise their hands if they want to anser the question? Maybe I should just switch to only speaking English. It would be really rough, but they might learn more that way. I say might, because with these kids there is no guarantee. I don't know, I just felt like such a failure yesterday, especially because I thought it was such a great idea for a lesson. If anyone has any games or lessons for drilling into their heads 'she likes" with an s, please tell me, because I'm almost out of ideas!

On the flip side, one of the joys of teaching is that I can see every class that there's another kid who is more enthousiastic about English and tries a little harder. It's really gratifying. Kids are great.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Musings on being a quasi-expat

Last Thursday I had my visite medicale in Laon (the county seat, essentially), which is the last thing I needed to have done in order to get my carte de sejour (residency card). For the medical visit, they basically just want to make sure you don't have tuberculosis. Of course it's a little absurd at this point, because I've been working with approximately 150 children for the past month and a half so if I had TB (and I don't, thank goodness) they would all have been exposed by now. In fact one of my directeurs (principal) took this as an opportunity to tell me how ridiculous and inefficient French bureaucracy is, and how he's sure it doesn't work this way in America. I have no idea.

Anyway, once I recieve my carte de sejour I will officially be a legal resident of France. This is a really strange feeling. I'm an American, and frankly, I love America. I don't love everything about it, namely Bush & Co, conservatives, people who don't believe in social programs, basically anything that doesn't fit into my nice liberal bubble, but I really do love my country. I love the ideals set forth in the Constitution, I love football (REAL football), I love stores that are open 24 hours and on Sundays, I love having all kinds of international cuisine at my fingertips, I like normal sized rooms, and I LOVE central heating. My love for America has become even more apparent to me now that I'm living abroad. And I thought to myself this morning while I was on my way to the sous-prefecture to drop off my medical certificate, why then do I want to be a resident of another country? This is not to say that I hate France, which is not true at all, or that I'm sorry I came here, just that I've discovered that I really enjoy being an American in America. There are lots of things I love about France too, but it just isn't home, it just isn't the same. I am glad that I'm having this experience of being abroad and living in a different culture. I guess it's just having that formal status of being a legal resident of a country that is not America is troubling to me. No, I don't really mean troubling, but maybe that it weighs on me, or it doesn't fit quite right. Yes, that's it, it doesn't fit quite right. So I'll enjoy my time here as a French resident, but I think I'll be relieved when I'm just a plain ol' American again in July.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Just a quickie...

... to wish a very very Happy Belated Thanksgiving to the Americans especially, but everyone, because I think a holiday about being thankful is something we can all share in.

Things I love about France:

Being able to decide on the spur of the moment that I'm going to Paris for the day tomorrow.

Things that make this possible: living only a little over an hour away by train from Paris, and having a Carte Louvre Jeune. The Louvre is free for the rest of the year for me!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

On fait la grève!

Yes, it's that time again in France: time to strike! The train, subway, gas, and electric companies are all on strike right now to demonstrate their opposition to proposed government reforms to retirement laws. What does that mean? Mostly that it is next to impossible to go anywhere. I find it very interesting from a cultural perspective, but I guess I'm truely an American because I think they're being ridiculous. We'll see how it all pans out over the next few days, but it looks like there's a pretty good possibility that this strike could last for a while, since the unions just voted to stike for a third day tomorrow. Apparently the last time the government tried to change the retirement laws, in 1995, the labor unions were on strike for three weeks and the entire country shut down. Three weeks! France is really reliant on public transportation, much more so than America. Imagine what it would be like if the public transportation systems in all the major cities shut down, and you have some idea of what the effect of this is on the country. And I haven't even mentioned the real problem with the grève yet: if there are no trains running to Paris, I won't be able to watch the Michigan-Ohio State game! I had planned on finding a bar in Paris where they might show it, but no. Obviously this is just one big consipiracy against Michigan fans :)

My kids are way too cute! Today one of them made me a paper boat, complete with a sail! It was actually very useful since I was teaching about Thanksgiving. I told the kids that it was the Mayflower. Today was a really good teaching day because none of my classes were too noisey. Usually one class a day is really noisy. It's just because they're kids, and also because they are really enthousiastic about English (doesn't that just make your little heart go pitter-pat?), but it's not so cool when I'm trying to teach something. I actually bribed one of my classes with the promise of stickers if they behaved themselves, which worked really well!

I'm so sad that I'm missing Thanksgiving this year. It's my favorite holiday, I always spend it with my family, and I have such great memories from every single Thanksgiving that I can remember. This year I won't be with my family, they don't even know what cranberries are in France, and I certainly don't have an oven to cook anything in. And none of the other assistants in town seem to care or want to do anything. Sigh. At least I made hand turkeys with my kids today.

French people make different sounds than we do in the US. They say "op" a lot, like when they're getting up from a seated position or lifting something. They also say "tock" all the time, which kind of means "okay, it's done." Just an observation for your enjoyment.

With French these days, I'm at the point where I feel like my listening and comprehension skills have really improved but I am getting increasingly frustrated at my inability to express myself. I just don't have the words to say what I want to say. Now that I'm feeling more confident being here in France and with speaking French in general I really want to start saying more, but I just don't have the vocabulary. So, I end up looking like an idiot for just standing around silently, and I miss out on opportunities to connect with French people. I guess I should try to study some vocab everyday, but how boring is that? And besides, who has the time?

To finish my Paris weekend narration, it was really just a lovely weekend. It was nice to get away and just enjoy myself and not think about other problems for a while. I enjoyed it so much that I was back again last Saturday. It's so convenient from here, just a little over an hour by train. One of the reasons I really wanted to do this program was to travel and see things, so I really need to start making more of an effort to do that. I have Fridays off for that very reason! From now on I will be travelling more. Any suggestions for weekend trips or offers of floors to crash on? :)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Can't I Be On Vacation Forever?

I'm back from my wonderful weekend in Paris and I already wish I were back there on vacation. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to be back in Soissons, and especially to have my beautiful; comfy; warm couette (duvet) again, but it also means that it's the end of vacation. Not only vacation from school but from the aforementioned medical problems I've been having, which I now have to deal with again. It's like this cloud of dread over everything.

But, let me tell you how wonderful Paris was! Unfortunately I can't upload any photos yet because I won't be able to use my laptop and wifi until Friday when I am at the Inscription, but they will come. Let me say first of all that I took art history in high school, really enjoyed it, and am a nerd about looking at art, I just love it. Okay. I got in on Friday and spent the afternoon at the Musee Rodin. It was incredible to see all of those famous pieces in person! The Thinker is actually not even half as big as I thought it would be, but it was still quite impressive, and of course most amazing was just seeing it in person. The museum is small so it's definitely doable in a few hours, and you can spend time looking at everything as long as you want without feeling pressured to move on so you can see it all. For dinner I wandered around the area by Quai d'Orsay for a little while, checking out menus, and chose a traditional French restaurant. The food was amazing, the best meal I had all weekend. For the entree (or as we say in America, hors d'oevre) I had a salad topped with a giant square of goat cheese baked in a layer of phyllo, and for the plat (main course) a duo of salmon and merlon (not sure what that is in English) in a creamy, herby sauce with spinach and potatoes. Wonderful.

Saturday I went to the Palais Garnier, the famous opera house where Phantom of the Opera is set. Yes, I love Phantom of the Opera. It was almost like a pilgrimage, and I did have to hum the music to myself sometimes. This building is so fabulous I can't even describe it. Totally opulent and over the top, everything is marble and gold and carved and beautiful. I had a guided tour, but unfortunately I got the timed wrong and had to go on the tour in French instead of English so I didn't understand everything, but I did get to see Box Number 5! I also went to the Galleries Lafayette. Massive department store doesn't even begin to describe the madness! It's so huge that it takes up multiple buildings. I am excited to go back and see it all lit up later in the winter. Dinner was at an Italian restaurant. I had a lovely salad with lots of parmesan, artichoke hearts, toamatoes, and other yummy veggies. Then I had a pasta with goat cheese, sundried tomatoes, and a lemony sauce. The sun dried tomatoes were a little salty but otherwise it was quite good.

Sunday was a sort of special anniversary for me and I wanted to spend it at the Louvre. Well, the Louvre was a complete madhouse because the first Sunday of every month museums are free admission, so the entire world and their relatives from Neptune were there. It was still amazing. Again, it's incredible to see pieces that you've studied in art class in person. I spent most of my time in the ancient Roman and Greek art rooms, and you could watch the evolution of the styles and see the differences between them..... really remarkable. Especially the vases. One day a person decided to decorate this very mundane household item. Why? What inspired someone to decorate it? I had a hurried tour of parts of the ancient NearEast section too on my way to see Hamurabi's code. The famous pieces that I saw were the Venus de Milo, Hamurabi's Code, Nike of Samothrace, and bien sur, the Mona Lisa. Venus de Milo was just incidental to my tour of the Greek galleries. Hamurabi's Code was actually smaller than I thought it would be. I had imagined a giant pillar but it's not even as tall as I am. It was still amazing to see. I had a hurried look at the earliest pieces of writing there too. Again, fascinating. The Nike of Samothrace was also incredible. The way her toga flows around her is so beautiful and so real, she looks the very image of exultation and victory. The only problem is that it was super crowded and difficult to get a good picture. It was the same case at the Mona Lisa. Surprisingly enough though, the Mona Lisa was the piece that impressed me the most. I had always thought "okay, it's a picture, it's famous, but there isn't that much special about it." I was so wrong! It is entirely different to see it in person than as a picture in a book. The colors are vivid, and she smiles her secret smile, and her eyes really do follow you everywhere you go. I really understand now why she is so famous. As I was looking at her I felt like we were sharing a secret. I'm not quite sure what that secret was, but even so it was a really special thing to see.

Okay, have got to run now, but I'll finish up my narration a little later.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Hello again!

It has been quite some time since I've written on here, and unfortunately no news wasn't good news. I've had some really tough stuff to deal with over the past couple of weeks, and I'm honestly not sure if I'm going to be able to finish my contract. It depends on how well I can handle these other issues (which are medical) in addition to my job, and if the other issues make me so miserable that it's not worthwhile for me to stay. I'm not even sure that I want to stay. But this week is vacation, the Toussaint, or All Saints vacation, so I'm going to try to enjoy my free time and remind myself why I wanted to come here in the first place. My only current plan is to be in Paris next weekend and explore that city, and in the meantime maybe some day trips. If anyone has any suggestions, please pass them along.

Other than these non-job related issues, things here are good overall. I can't emphasize enough how kind everyone in Soissons has been to me, especially with all of this other stuff going on. My conseillere pedagogique continues to be wonderful, as well as everyone at the Inscription (school district offices), and at my schools the teachers are really nice to me too. The directeur in one school in particular is just so nice to me. The kids are cute, although on Thursday they were totally nuts. They obviously knew that vacation was coming, and I was just doing Halloween games with them so it was a rather chaotic day. In one school I'm sort of tag-teaming the English teaching with the CE2/CM1 teacher because he's qualified to teach English and I actually find that really helpful. Since I have no teaching experience, it's really good to be able to see how he goes about teaching. It gives me lots of ideas and steers me in the right direction. I think that after the break I may ask if I can do some observation of another teacher who is habilite in English, and also ask this teacher if we can do more teaching together. What we do right now is brainstorm general topics together and then split the class in half and each do a different activity, and I think I'd like to have a week or two where I could be an actual teaching assistant, rather than an actual teacher. During vacation I should probably do some planning for the last six weeks of the year, so I have some direction.

I'm feeling a little lonely and homesick these days, as I'm sure all assistants and everyone who has ever been away can relate to. It's just hard to be thousands of miles away from the people you care about the most and who care about you the most. But like I said above, it's vacation and I'm going to try to make the best of it.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Only in France!!!

I decided to open my bank account at BNP Paribas because they made it easy for me and that convinced two other assistants in town to also open their accounts there. So Friday morning we all troop down to the small BNP office by the cathedral and piled into the office of the banker there. She's young and fun and very nice, we had a fun time together. So much fun, in fact, that after the two other assistants had finished their paperwork she showed us a powerpoint photo show that her friend had sent to her. Has everyone heard of the naked rugby calendar? This was a slideshow of photos from the making of the naked rugby calendar. Basically we all sat around and looked at porn together. I think this goes in the same category as being able to buy lingerie everywhere you go.

Last night I went to Paris for Nuit Blanche, which is like a sort of artsy all night party through thestreets of Paris. It was my first real Paris experience. I went to the Tour Eiffel, saw Notre Dme from the outside, passed briefly through the courtyard at the Louvre, sat in the Jardin de Tuileries for a while, and wandered around the Rue de Rivoli. The Eiffel Tower was just neat to see in person, especially once they lit it up for the evening, but the buildings were breathtaking. I'd seen pictures of the Louvre and ND in art history class but it doesn't at all compare to seeing them in person. The architecture is amazing, especially since ND is so beautiful and white and clean now. Incredible. I also happened to be in the university area when the French national rugby team beat the New Zealand team - everyone was cheering, horns were honking, everywhere was celebration. It was pretty fun, I might try to go back for another game!

I start teaching on Monday, tomorrow. I'm a little apprehensive, since I have absolutely not one single qualification to teach other than the fact that I speak English. I'm expecting the first days to be pretty rough, but I'll do my best to learn on my feet. All the teachers have been really nice, and tomorrow will be at my super nice school in Courmelles, so my goal is to make it through the day without a meltdown. I'll be with CM1 and CM2, 9-11 year olds. Wish me luck! Good luck to everyone else who starts teaching soon!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Lunch and the French

One of the big differences here so far is that between 12 - 1:30 nearly every single store in town shuts down, including banks, and everyone goes home for lunch. Parents even pick up their children from school to bring them home for a delicious meal. I've learned not to try to go anywhere right around 12 because the streets are packed with people leaving to go home and have lunch with their families. It's quite nice I think, even if it's kind of a pain to have this block of time during the day where I can't get anything done. I think it creates a nice atmosphere and feeling that money isn't everything and that family and mental health are more important. Compare this with school in America, where you're lucky to have a half an hour to scarf down a peanut butte and jelly sandwich along with some chips and cookies, or in the workplace where people eat Lean Cuisines at their desk.

Today I went to two elementary schools to make my timetable, and it looks like with the bus schedule I will be in one of these two tiny towns for lunch eating in the teacher's room rather than coming back to Soissons. Everyone was very distressed by this! They thought it was horrible that I would have to eat a sandwich by myself in the teacher's break room. So I said no, it didn't bother me at all, that's a typical lunch for Americans. They laughed, and the topic changed for a while. Then they brought it up again! And again I reassured them that it was fine, and I guess they're used to the idea now and probably scratching their heads about the strange eating habits of Americans. Do they think that otherwise I would sit down for a three course meal? My typical lunch is a sandwich! I love that they are so concerned about this very old, and potentially dying, tradition of long, leisurely lunches with the family. It makes me feel like I'm experiencing the real France, which is exactly what I came here for.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

I'm alive and well!

I have arrived in France safe and sound. I've been here for over a week now, how strange is that? Getting here was much easier than I was anticipating, with all the heavy luggage I had with me, and I had such a lovely welcome by everyone at the lycee (high school) where I'm living and especially by my conseillère pedagogique, Madame Camus. I am in love with her. She has been so helpful, taking me shopping and to get other stuff I need done, and she even had me over for dinner my first night here!

I LOVE Soissons!!! It's an adorable little town but also has stuff to do like shopping, a movie theater, restaurants and bars, even a combined bar/bowling alley! There is this really nice park along the river, ruins of a monastery, a cathedral, another big church that is now a museum.... it just seems like there's lots to do and explore! And if I get tired of it, Paris is only an hour by train. In general everyone I have come into contact with has been extremely nice and has gone out of their way to help me any time I have a question or problem with anything. Even when I'm completely mangling French, which happens quite often! The parler-ing the francais is going ok. I'm just doing the best I can, getting flustered a lot, but also having some great victory moments when I actually get something right. It's frustrating to feel that I can't express myself correctly, but everyone is really patient with me and very understanding.

In summary, I love it here and I'm having a great time!

This weekend I had a lovely excursion to Amiens, the capital city of my région, to meet other assistants here and go to the orientation day for assistants on Monday. Orientation day was pretty useless, but it was great to meet the other assistants. On Sunday they had this broderie that everyone made a big deal out of. Basically it was a gigantic city wide garage sale in the centre ville. Lots of taxidermy. Otherwise I'm here learning to get around Soissons and doing my demarches administratives, the little bureaucratic and administrative things I need to do to become a legal resident of France for the next nine months.

Today I applied for my carte de sejour, my residency card, at the local sous-prefecture. The prefecture runs the département, so it's like the county government, and the sous-prefecture is their sattelite office. I was anticipating lots of trouble because most assistants say that it tends to be a bureaucratic nightmare, but it couldn't have been any easier. Since it's a little local office they aren't busy at all; it's this one woman in charge of all the foreigners and she's super nice and helpful, even asking to make sure she asn't speaking too fast for me! I went in yesterday to see what paperwork I needed, took care of that, went back today and it took about five minutes for her to put my dossier together. The only annoying thing is that I couldn't get a recipissé, a reciept or temporary card, because only the prefecture can issue those. But no worries, it will be sent here when it's ready. Still to do: open bank account (tomorrow!), send in national health insurance forms, and do the paperwork so I can get paid. Bank account is necessary for all these other steps. Why haven't I already gotten one if I've been here for a week, you may ask. Well, they told us we would cover it at the stzge (orientation) but all they did was stump for this one particular bank and I totally could have done it last week when Mme Camus offered to go with me. Oh France, you're so funny!

Things that are weird about France:
- they don't use lined paper to write on, they use graphing paper
- you have to pull or push a knob to flush the toilets
- at the weekly outdoor markets they sell lingerie. Yes, lingerie.
- they love to correct my French mistakes. For exa,ple, the other night I met a professor at the lycee in the salle des profs (teacher's lounge) who gave me a full evaluation of my French after out conversation. I find it really helpful actually, and not at all offensive.

I will expand that list with time. I know this is a terribly uninteresting post, but I just wanted to do a brief catch-up on the last week so that everyone knows I'm doing great and things are going really well! My internet access has been a little sketchy and my hours have been sort of irregular, but it will be better now that I'm more settled and I am going to be better about updating. hugs and kisses to everyone in the US, and lots of good wishes to my fellow assistants! I hope that your first weeks have gone/ are going as smoothly as possible and that your students are well behaved! Anyone thinking about hitting up nuit blanche in Paris this weekend?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Five Days

Success! I have heard from my conseiller pedagogique, Marie-Therese. She's brand new to the circonscription so I think she didn't realize that I was part of her job, and it sounds like as soon as she was told that she had to take care of me, she got on the ball. I have housing at Lycee Camille Claudel, know exactly which schools I'll be teaching in, and Marie-Therese herself will be picking me up from the Soissons train station and taking me to the lycee to check out my housing. The lycee is right downtown, so I hope that means I will easily be able to find food and linens and things when I get there. I hope stores will still be open, since I'm not getting in until almost 5 PM.

Final word on the schools is Ecole Elementaire Leo Lagrange in Belleu, and Ecole Courmelles in Courmelles. Both of them are accessible by bus from my house, and get this, Courmelles is only 1600 people! How adorable. I'm sure it would be a lot less adorable if I had to live there for the whole year. I have this dream that because the town is so small all the families of the kids I'll be teaching will adopt me and I'll integrate into French life and culture. Or maybe they'll just stare and make fun of the strange American girl. Either way, it'll be interesting.

I've started saying goodbye to my friends and family. As excited as I am to get to France I'm also sad to be leaving so many people I care about. I know that with the internet it's a lot easier to keep in touch, but when you just want to watch a chick flick with your friends while gorging on Hint of Lime Tostitos, the internet doesn't quite cut it. I'm going to miss my mom a lot. We're really close, and it's going to be so hard not having her around all the time. I did go to college out of state, but at least we were in the same time zone and could talk on the phone every night. Six hours is a big time difference! When I'm ready to talk she'll still be at work. And I'll have a lot to talk to her about too, it won't be a simple 5 minute phone conversation. Well, I'm sure we'll figure something out.

Next on my list of tasks to conquer after the education system: packing to live in a foreign country for nine months! I still have five days before I leave, plenty of time right?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

In Which Soleil is Shown Major Love by Various Employees of the French Educational System

So far it's been a super fun France week.

I got up the nerve Monday morning to call my circonscription, Soissons II, which administers elementary education for the rural area around Soissons, to ask them about my housing. This is what my directrice had told me to do when she responded to my introduction email back in August. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Hello, my name is soleil and I will be the English assistant in Belleu this year. Mme le Directrice told me to contact you about housing.
Them: Who are you? There is no assistant in Belleu this year.
Me: (internally: AHHHH! WHAT!!!???) uuuuuuhhhhhhh.......but I have my arrete......
Them: What does it say?
Me: It's signed by X people and says I'm teaching in Belleu!
Them: Well, I have no idea. Contact the departemental conseiller pedagogique for langues vivantes.

Which of course was all I could do. I hurriedly cobbled together an email for Pascale (the CP) asking about my assignment, but by the time I was able to compose something somewaht comprehensible it was too late in the day in France (stupid 6 hour time difference) to expect to hear back from her. I was freaking out a little for a couple of hours, but I calmed down when I finally thought about it rationally. I have my arrete, so there is a position for me there. According to the assistants forum this happens all the time, apparently because they don't decide the primary placements until mid-September. Also, because there are sooooo many different layers of bureaucracy in the educational system, it's so easy to imagine that communication between them just sucks.

Luckily I heard from Pascale on Tuesday! Or rather, all the assistants and all the circonscriptional CPs heard from her. Basically she said that they've sent out the arretes and that the assistants are coming. It sounds like everyone gets the cheapy internat housing, which is awesome.....

..... except that they haven't set it up for people near Soissons yet, and this other woman at the academie level is now in charge of procuring my housing at a lycee. So I sent out another email requesting help with my housing to Veronique, who hasn't gotten back to me yet. And Pascale never really answered my question about where exactly I'm teaching. But, I feel like the problem has been solved. Pascale laid the smackdown on the circonscriptions, I'm assuming that my arrete is still correct, Veronique will get me housing, and I will be in France in 13 days. Thumbs up all around.

Tonight involves quality TV time with Bush's speech (I'll be furious the entire time but I feel like I have to watch) and then I'll follow that up with some Top Chef action. I have to say, I've been pretty disappointed with the chefs this season. It seems like every week the food either isn't that great or is just plain bad, there are rarely knockout dishes, and no one chef has been consistently excellent. To me that does not make a top chef. We'll see what happens over the next few weeks as we move towards the finale. Hopefully someone will step up their game. Probably a better way to be spending my time tonight would be packing, because I haven't started that yet, but whatever. I always do my best work when I'm under the gun.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The First Post

Okay, here goes my attempt at a blog about my upcoming experiences in France! First, a question: I would really like a white page background with this template. Is that possible?

I've been hired by the French government to teach English to elementary school kids, 12 hours a week, for 9 months. I was placed in the academie d'Amiens and the departement de l'Aisne in the north of France. More specifically I'll be teaching in two elementary schools in Belleu, which is a tiny town of about 4000 people but right next door to Soissons, "the big city" as I've been describing it to my friends and family, of about 30,000. Through the grapevine (ie the former assistants from Belleu and Soissons that I've hunted down through the internet) I learned that I'll actually be living in a dorm right in the centre ville of Soissons. I'm planning to call the nspection Academique on Monday to double check this, but I'm pretty sure it should be all set up. So I think I have the best of both worlds: I'll have the opportunity to integrate into a really small community but also be in a larger town with more things to do (clubs, bars, people, etc). And I'll only be an hour or an hour and a half away from Paris by train! I'm sure Paris will call me often, especially since my housing is going to be ridiculously cheap.

In exactly 16 days I will be in the car on my way to the airport to catch my flight to France. I can't believe it's coming up so quickly! I haven't started packing yet - that will be next week's adventure. For the past couple of days I've been thinking about the food I'll miss while I'm in France. I love spicy food, I can't get enough of it, and I'm planning to overload on it before I go because I don't think I'll get much of it in France. I plan to have my favorite Indian buffet at least a few times before I leave and lots of Mexican. There's a new Thai restaurant and a new Middle Eastern place, both of which I want to try. And I have to eat at one of my favorite restaurants ever, Seva, which is a wonderful vegetarian restaurant here.

As you may be able to guess, I like food, I like to eat, and I think and talk about food a lot. There will probably be a lot written about food here. Eating Mission One: Do not eat so much French cheese that I turn into a giant round of Brie. Actually, that should be way down the list. The real Eating Mission One should be to try everything once. I'm expecting escargot to be disgusting, but hey, you only live once!

My philosophy while in France will be to take every opportunity to enjoy myself, try new things, and push my boundaries. That is what my blog title, au soleil levant, refers to. The rising sun is a symbol of new beginnings and new opportunities. I have waited a very long time for this opportunity, and I intend to enjoy it completely!